Food, Savoury
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creamy pumpkin rigatoni

At this time of year, I invariably have odd half cups of pumpkin puree leftover from making pancakes, waffles, and the like. This year I even played around with a pumpkin pie ice cream, which was, in the end, really rather tasty. So a pumpkin overflow isn’t exactly the worst problem to have. In fact, come lunchtime, it’s often the best ingredient for a fast, seasonal and, most importantly (at least on cold, dreary days), warming meal.

This takes about as long as your pasta takes to cook. While it bubbles away, you can hover near the stove assembling and stirring the sauce, and enjoying the balmy heat of the kitchen (a boon when your flat refuses to acknowledge that the heat is on full whack).

You’ll notice that much of this is “to taste” – from the amount of nutmeg to the parmesan. Embrace that. Grab a spoon and taste as you go. After all, the oven’s on and it’s a nice warm place to be. Maybe you want your pasta extra cheesy today? Or maybe you’d like a bigger hit of nutmeg because you’re feeling the seasonal spirit. Go with what tastes right to you. That’s part of the fun.

By the way, while this does have bacon in it (as many of the best things do), it’s easy enough to remove and make this dish vegetarian.

Right now, the sky is dark, the grass is damp, and there’s a wonderful whip to the wind as it whistles round my flat, tucked within a lovely rusty-red brick building. It’s mid-morning, and the world is telling me to stay in, keep warm, and make a big bowl of creamy, spicy, rich pasta. And you know what? I’m good with that.

creamy pumpkin rigatoni
serves two

250g rigatoni (or any other pasta of your choice)
1 tbsp butter/1 tsp mild olive oil (or any other neutral oil)
3 rashers of smokey, streaky bacon (or a small pack of lardons/pancetta)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup of pumpkin puree
1/4 cup double cream
Nutmeg, cayenne, parmesan, and pepper, to taste

Cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water. You want to do this first because the starchy cooking water is an ingredient in an early stage of the sauce.

Warm the butter and oil (the oil will stop the butter burning) in a decent sized frying pan over a medium heat and add the bacon, if using. When golden, but not crisp, add the crushed garlic and quickly stir through before adding the pumpkin puree. You don’t want the garlic to brown or burn here, otherwise it will taint the otherwise smooth, rich taste of the sauce.

Turn the heat down low under the sauce and stir. Add a 1/3 cup (about 80ml) of the starchy pasta cooking water and leave it alone for a bit. The final stages (seasoning and cream) will happen when the pasta is basically cooked, so just keep an eye on the sauce, and if it looks like it’s getting dry, add a bit more cooking water.

When your pasta’s al dente, remove at least half a cup of cooking water. This is your pasta safety net, you might not actually use it, but there is nothing worse than dry pasta, especially when it can be so easily rescued with just a splash of this magical liquid, which can turn even the most reluctant sauce into something smooth and luscious.

Taste the sauce, then grate in a small amount of fresh nutmeg and add a pinch of cayenne, to give it a little heat. If you like things spicy, by all means, up the cayenne quotient. Then grate in a generous shower of fresh parmesan. Stir together and pour in the double cream.

Taste the sauce again and grind in some fresh pepper. Unless you’re a serious salt fiend, I doubt you’ll need to add any as both the bacon and the parmesan offer salinity. But if you’ve removed the bacon, you might want to add a pinch here.

Drain the pasta and either add it to the sauce, if you’ve got room in the pan, or return it to the pasta-cooking pan and pour over the sauce. Basically, you’ll need a good amount of space to properly stir the sauce and pasta together (otherwise it’ll end up all over your hob) to distribute all the bright orange, pumpkin-y goodness. That’s why rigatoni’s so good here – there are so many places for the sauce to wind and wrap itself around.

For the next bit, go by eye – the sauce is creamy but thick, so if you think it could use it, add a little of the reserved pasta cooking water to loosen and make it a little more silky. I almost always add about a tablespoon of liquid at this stage.

Then dish the pasta up and serve it with an extra grating of fresh parmesan and a little more freshly-ground pepper. For the full cosy effect, grab a blanket, and head over to the couch with your seasonal spoils, and watch some TV as you munch.

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